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The “G” is silent, but the night won’t be

by Matthew Holmes

Special To The Japan Times

Let’s get one thing out of the way: The first “G” in Gbenga Adelekan’s name is silent. Great. The Nigerian-born musician is getting ready to show Japanese fans two sides of his musical persona when he storms Tokyo next week.

First, as bassist/vocalist of British electro-poppers Metronomy; then more personally, he’ll stay on as Olugbenga, who has been signed up for an exclusive DJ set for Japan-based music site Block.fm, and as a special guest headlining the Tokyo Indie club night, which also features local electro-house duo Boys Get Hurt.

Almost all of the creative force behind Metronomy comes from lead man Joseph Mount, and on the release of 2011′s “The English Riviera,” critics lauded the band’s new-found direction as a natural “finding their voice” moment — one which earned them a prestigious Mercury Prize nomination in the U.K., and places on prominent end-of-year best-of lists (tastemaking music magazine NME named it the No. 2 album of the year).

When DJing, Adelekan is free to show off his own influences, and only seconds into his sets it’s clear he’s presenting an entirely different proposition from Metronomy, with an up-to-date record bag full of U.K. bass, grime and chillwave — re-interpreted and played out house-party style. He says people are still taken aback by how much preparation he puts into the performance.

“Being in Metronomy has given me a foot in the door just because of the profile of the band, but I never want to take that for granted,” he tells The Japan Times. “Metronomy is Joe’s band and he put a lot of work into getting it to the point where it is now. I don’t want to feel like I’m trading off someone else’s work.

“And as a person who has been writing music for fun since I was a teenager, I guess I was always going to need a creative outlet of my own, which is why I have been DJing and producing my own electronic stuff.”

With a steadily growing back-catalogue of work — including an impressive NME-hosted online reworking of Three Trapped Tigers’ “Reset,” and a hotly anticipated and much-talked-about remix for Esben and the Witch — Adelekan is in demand. But he admits that creatively, this isn’t always a good thing.

“Getting down to finishing my original tracks took a back seat (in 2011). After the Three Trapped Tigers remix that I finished in September, my manager and I decided I should stop taking on remixes for a while and knuckle down to do some of my own music.”

When fans hear about musicians pursuing side projects, they sometimes worry — it can sound as dangerous as them having “musical differences.” But Adelekan is quick to allay any fears.

“The music I make and play live is so different from Metronomy’s that I think it’s a bit of a red herring to link the two,” he says. “Joe and I have some shared influences now because over the last three years we’ve shared a lot of experiences and listened to a lot of music together. But our aims and musical backgrounds are very different.”

Adelekan grew up singing gospel in Nigeria. As a young boy he was in awe of his uncles’ Fela Kuti obsessions, and Afro-beat was a fixture on the family stereo. After moving to Europe in the 1990s he started listening to rock bands such as Nirvana and the Smashing Pumpkins.

Even Japanese culture has played a part in his journey. The members of his previous band, Akira, were “fascinated by manga and anime.” Adelekan says the “extremes of the story lines and artwork are something I think still informs my music.”

Clearly ready-made names sell tickets, but cynics in music circles have criticized promoters who pimp celebrity-factor over skill of the musician-turned-DJ. Fans get to interact with their idols in a new way, but Adelekan is still keen to get away from the idea that it’s enough just to show up and play tunes he thinks are “cool.”

“I know there was a bit of surprise when I started taking it seriously a couple of years ago and I’d actually mix between tracks. I guess there’s a perception that people will come and see band members DJ just so they can be a bit closer to them than at a gig. In my case, though, Joe is the focus of interest for Metronomy fans — and rightly so. I feel like I need to justify my presence in the (DJ) booth.”

If he can prove his worth, could all this be a route to the kind of solo success someone like Jamie Smith from The xx has had? Or is this just a way to add another string to his bow?

“Honestly, I don’t really pay much attention to what people from other bands have done when they DJ, but I think the fact that my sets are mostly made up of my own productions, bootlegs and edits gives me an edge over most DJs.”

If people are “willing to dance, and get into something they are not familiar with,” then they’ll fit into what Adelekan calls his favorite crowd — with or without Metronomy. And with his current DJ setup, that ethos is key.

Adelekan layers sounds on top of each other and constructs a set that deserves to be called a performance. There are sometimes three or four records playing at the same time and he certainly knows his way around the equipment. In his case, the laptop’s often derided (or neglected) software and controllers are not a high-tech cop-out for the vinyl shy.

Proving himself seems a genuine quest. He’s proud to be a part of Metronomy, but thinks his own musical ventures “should stand on their own.” He finds DJing to be very personal, and if Tokyo’s crowds are able to find their own space in the music, he’ll have succeeded.

Metronomy play Daikanyama Unit in Tokyo on Jan. 16 (¥5,500) and Olugbenga headlines the Tokyo Indie event on Jan. 20 at Trump Room in Shibuya, Tokyo (¥3,000). Japanese site Block.fm hosts an exclusive Olugbenga DJ set on Jan 14 between 11 p.m. and midnight. For details, visit www.creativeman.co.jp, www.tokyoindie.com, block.fm or www.thegissilent.wordpress.com.